OpenAI co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever departs

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Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s co-founder and chief scientist, has left the artificial intelligence start-up six months after moving against its chief executive Sam Altman in a shock coup that ultimately proved unsuccessful.

“After almost a decade, I have made the decision to leave OpenAI,” Sutskever wrote in a post on social media site X on Tuesday. “The company’s trajectory has been nothing short of miraculous, and I’m confident that OpenAI will build AGI (artificial general intelligence) that is both safe and beneficial.”

The San Francisco start-up commands a valuation of more than $80bn, thanks in part to a major partnership with Microsoft. Both OpenAI and Google — its chief competitor in AI — have released cutting-edge updates to their models this week, which have pushed the frontier of the technology.

Sutskever is regarded as one of the leading researchers in deep learning and artificial intelligenceand a key factor in OpenAI’s early dominance in the nascent field of generative AI — the development of tools that can generate multimedia responses to human queries.

Hours after the announcement, Jan Leike, another senior researcher at OpenAI, wrote on X: “I resigned”. He had worked closely with Sutskever on “alignment” — or ensuring that AI systems act in the human interest if and when they surpass human-level intelligence. OpenAI did not immediately confirm Leike’s departure.

Sutskever was one of the chief protagonists in an abortive coup in November in which he joined other members of the OpenAI board to oust Altman as chief executive and remove fellow co-founder Greg Brockman from the board.

The move against Altman came after a breakdown in trust between the company’s leader and its board — a not-for-profit body with a mandate to ensure AI is developed in such a way that “benefits all of humanity”.

When company employees and investors rallied to Altman’s side, Sutskever and others on the board reversed course, reinstating Altman as chief executive just four days after removing him. A subsequent review found Altman’s sacking had been unwarranted.

“I deeply regret my participation in the board’s actions,” Sutskever wrote at the time. “I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we’ve built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company.”

The chief scientist, a prominent figure within the company who was instrumental in the development of its ChatGPT chatbot and whose remit included ensuring AI tools were developed safely, has since stayed out of the public eye.

When OpenAI announced updates to its flagship model on Monday, Sutskever was absent from the spotlight.

In announcing the departure on X on Tuesday, Altman described Sutskever as a “genuinely remarkable genius”.

“This is very sad to me; Ilya is easily one of the greatest minds of our generation, a guiding light of our field, and a dear friend . . . OpenAI would not be what it is without him,” he wrote.

Jakub Pachocki, a mentee of Sutskever who has worked in OpenAI’s research team since 2017, will replace him as chief scientist.

Sutskever on Tuesday hinted he would soon launch a new project, without giving details.

Additional reporting by Cristina Criddle in London


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